A number of years ago, I clipped a recipe for pesto meatballs:

  • A pound of ground meat;
  • A jar of prepared pesto;
  • Some breadcrumbs;
  • An egg.

I made the dish for my husband and toddler, and the results were … okay. The meatballs were a little heavy. They tasted faintly metallic (a flavor complaint I have with most prepackaged pestos). Nothing I’d make again.

Then I started making my own pesto. I decided to try the meatballs again, using my homemade concoction.

They were … okay. A little gummy. A little bland (surprising, given their otherworldly green hue). Nothing I’d make again.

But when a client asked me to make picnic fare for her family last summer, I kept circling back to pesto and those meatballs. Were they worth another try?

They were.

Turns out, when it comes to mastering pesto meatballs, the secret is in the individual ingredients. Instead of showering your meat with a slick of sauce, gently toss it with lemon zest and garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan, olive oil and basil. Each ingredient permeates the meat, giving you specific tastes with each bite.

I’ve thrown that first recipe away. This is the one I make again and again.

Pesto Meatballs With Basil Oil

The amounts here are approximations. As when making fresh pesto, your own taste dictates how much or how little of each ingredient you use. I like my meatballs to have a lot of lemon and garlic; you may not. Make them a couple of times, fiddling with the ratios until you come up with the perfect meatball for you! (The meatballs are all mine; the basil oil comes courtesy of Bon Appetit.)

For meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil
  • Zest of 1-2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3-1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

basil1For basil oil:

  • 1 shallot
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Place the turkey in a large bowl.

Set up your food processor and turn it on. Put the garlic clove through feed tube, letting the machine mince it finely.

Stop the machine and add the pine nuts, basil and a bit of salt and pepper. Pulse the ingredients until they’re finely chopped. Add them to the ground turkey.

Add the lemon zest, Parmesan and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the turkey and basil mixture. Season with salt and pepper, then add the egg and 1/3 cup of panko. Stir gently with a fork until well-combined, adding a little more panko if the mixture is too wet; a little more oil if it’s too dry.

Using a tablespoon, shape the mixture into 12 balls. Place in a greased baking sheet, then bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Turn the meatballs over and bake an additional 10 minutes. Turn them once more and bake for 5 more minutes. They should be done, but cut into one to be sure. If they need to bake longer, check them every couple of minutes to make sure they don’t overcook.

When the meatballs are done, make the basil oil by placing the shallot, basil and oil in your food processor and whirring everything together until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then spoon over the meatballs. Serve hot or at room temperature.